THERE ARE THREE BASIC STAGES IN RECOVERING FROM TRAUMA.
The first stage is SAFETY. It is very important to maintain safety throughout the healing and recovery process. This includes being away from any new sources of trauma. For example, if you have been in a relationship that is dangerous, safety means you stay away from the people that could hurt you. If you have a parent that is very controlling, it means you either communicate assertively with that parent or stay away from him/her completely.
Your thoughts and feelings must be kept safe also. That means it is extremely important to manage your thoughts so they don’t get out of control. It is also important to do things that keep your “strong and out-of-control” feelings from overwhelming you. Safety in your life is a skill that must be learned.
The second stage is TRAUMA RESOLUTION. Trauma resolution takes place when you remove the emotional pain from your trauma memory. You can tell when this is happening because you feel less sensitive to what used to trigger the trauma memory, such as sights, sounds and smells, even thinking about the traumatic experience.
The key to trauma resolution is not just to resolve the trauma, but to help you become more resilient to it. Resilience is the ability to bounce back, move on with life, and improve the quality of your life in spite of adversity or trauma. For example, it may be tempting to avoid others during a difficult time. You build resilience if you join a group or become involved in the lives of others even though your natural feelings are to stay away.
Things to Remember While Overcoming and Healing From Traumatic Events
· The same strength required to survive a traumatic event can be used to overcome it’s effects. “Discovering Personal Strengths,” a handout with Chapter 3 can help you rediscover the strengths you have had in the past—to get you through difficult times.
· The attitude you take can give meaning to your suffering and give you power. Life problems and suffering can help you find the answers to one of life’s most important questions—“What is life asking of me right now?” Our suffering and difficulties are often better understood when we compare them to the suffering and difficulties of others. This is one of the important benefits of doing group work.
· Healing from a traumatic event involves putting together the four functions of sensing, behaving, feeling and thinking. (Healing tends to unfold in that order. See the third stage on Reconnecting.)
· You are made up of the parts of your personality. These parts can bring strengths and resources that help you release your pain, make progress, heal relationships, and accomplish things. You can learn to access these parts with your therapist.
· Connection to others helps you heal and find meaning. Learning to share your thoughts and feelings is healing and develops close relationships.
· To find and restore meaning to your life, turn to your inner self and God. Meditation, prayer, scripture study, inspired thoughts, paying attention to dreams and early morning insights can help you do this. Your sense of self becomes bigger than the trauma.
Writing or keeping a journal is very valuable for healing because writing helps get the inside to the outside where it needs to be to start healing. To actually write with a pen or pencil is more healing than typing. What to write about? Whatever comes, let it come. Don’t force it. Set aside some time everyday, at least ten minutes to write. Then think about what you write and discover what meaning it has. Your healing will be underway.
The goal of trauma resolution is to make the trauma experience part of the your life without letting it control the rest of your life.
RE-CONNECTING is the third stage. It means you have resolved the trauma well enough to re-connect to yourself and others. When the trauma is resolved and you can think and feel again, you are able to relate to your world in a whole new way that is both rewarding and exciting.
There are four main parts of our being a person that must work together if they are to work well. These are sensing, feeling, thinking, and doing(behavior).
You have five senses so that you can learn things and enjoy your life. Often, feeling trauma gets in the way of our senses so they stop doing what they were designed to do. Symptoms of trauma often cut off messages from your senses. Reconnecting with your pleasurable senses is a great way to heal.
Touch - One of my favorite experiences is getting close to animals. I love to put my arms around the neck of my big golden retriever “Bounder” and soak in his love and acceptance.
I remember a woman who was struggling to overcome the effects of a traumatic childhood. I asked her how as a child she was able to cope with the pain. She replied that she had a dog that helped her. I asked her if she had a dog now, she said no and explained that she lived in an apartment and couldn’t have a dog. I suggested that a dog helped her get through a painful childhood, and it just might be a dog that could help her overcome the effects of that childhood. Within a few weeks, she had moved to a home where she could have a dog. She got her dog and found that her healing process began to increase by leaps and bounds!
Smell - Did you know the one sense that goes straight to your brain and brings very strong feelings is your sense of smell? Wonderful smells bring back special times in our lives. Have you ever smelled something and almost instantly it brought back a memory? Many smells help you calm down and sooth your tension. Try to find smells that bring back pleasurable feelings. List smells you have discovered that help you feel better.
Taste - Many of us connect the taste of certain foods with a beautiful memory. Grandma’s cobbler, the neighbor lady’s cookies, mom’s cooked breakfast.....whatever it is for you, these memory foods can bring moments of well-being back to mind and help you reconnect with your personal happy times.
Sight - Another great way to heal is with Nature. Even if you live in the city there are parks close by where you can go to heal in nature. Birds pecking at the bread crumbs you leave on your window sill, sunrises and sunsets to watch, photographs or pictures of things you discover.....write about the things you see in nature to give you a lift. Is there anything that you could look at that would increase your sense of pleasure in just seeing it?
Hearing - Sounds can be connected to good or bad memories, so seek out the good. This may be hearing your favorite song or the song of a bird, or even the rustle of leaves moving in the breeze. Don’t forget the simple sounds. There is something about the sound of water, the ocean waves, or a gurgling stream that is healing. Listening to music is one way to let your sense of hearing help you deal with trauma. Be careful to stay away from heavy metal and rap music. There is actually scientific evidence that these types of music are harmful. Of course, there is music that lifts and encourages in most styles of music. Find what works for you. Music can synchronize with the mind and create inner harmony and peace
Trauma tends to dull and numb our feelings as it does our senses, so what can we do about it?
One of the most important ways to deal with your feelings is to talk about them. Often when we have trauma we are afraid to let our feelings out because we can’t be sure what feelings may surface, so we stuff our feelings and become quiet. We don’t want to talk. That is the opposite of what we should do. Here is a simple way to share your feelings: I feel (put the feeling here) because (this is happening or when this happened).
Let’s try it:
Your best friend was hurt in a car accident and won’t be available for a long time.
I feel ____________________________
Your favorite shirt or blouse gets stained with grease and can’t be cleaned.
I feel ____________________________
You get in an argument with your mother.
I feel ___________________________
You witness a horrible car accident where some people are badly hurt.
I feel ___________________________
Each of us needs someone close to share our lives with. The trauma that happened to you may have also happened to other members of your family, or to a friend. If this is the case, it may be a good time to get closer to help each other heal.
Another important part of our feelings is how we feel about God. Sometimes when really bad things happen to us or to those we love, we blame God. It is hard to understand how God can love us and still not stop horrible tragedies from happening to us.
While I don’t think I have the complete answer, I have made a discovery of my own. When I am hurting the most or I’m dealing with difficult times, my heart is often at a kind of crossroads. I can become frustrated, stuck, and angry OR I can try to be more patient and find the place inside where I am more sensitive. When I do, I am more likely to feel those things that can connect me with God. And when I feel more of this connection, I find a way to continue trying. Look for examples of God’s love in your life and try to feel it even if you don’t understand why God didn’t stop this tragedy from happening. Some problems just take longer to solve.
There is a very good way to use your “thinker” to overcome Feeling Trauma. It is Think to Thank —think of all of the things that you are grateful for and then give thanks. Try this for one month. Keep a journal in which you write down what you think about or notice each day that you appreciate or enjoy, or that you feel thankful for. There are so many things in each of our lives to be grateful for. We just need to notice, pause, and enjoy them. For example, notice the pleasure you receive from taking a deep, cleansing breath. Now that you’ve noticed, express how grateful you are for the air you breathe.
Reading good books can be a wonderful way to help get your mind into a place that is more safe and less sad. Some of my favorites are the Chris Van Allsburg children’s books, the four “Frog and Toad” books by Arnold Lobel, and Max Lucado’s “You Are Special.” They are simple and fun and can be quite thought provoking. I enjoy the art in the pictures, and the colors are bright and cheerful. The adventures are fun and sometimes silly. Consider going to the library and discover books that you would enjoy.
When our sensing, feeling and thinking are not working well, it affects how we do things. We may not enjoy doing what we once did. We may feel so sad that we have trouble getting up and moving. We may even be confused in our thinking, not able to decide what to do. The answer is to stay active and do things even if you don’t feel like it, or even wonder if you can.
When we experience feeling trauma there are chemicals that build up in our bodies. By the same process, when you are doing things, good chemicals are put into your body that make you feel better, even as undesirable chemicals are burned away. So stay active! What are (or used to be) some of your favorite activities? ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
What’s important is finding out what works for you.
There is one thing you can do that will make more of a difference to you than just about anything else — EXERCISE. There are many things that exercise will do for you (See enclosed handout Over 100 Ways Exercise will Enrich the Quality of Your Life).
1) Exercise gets rid of those chemicals and toxins that gather in your body during stress and trauma. If these chemicals and toxins aren’t removed, they can lead to physical or emotional breakdown.
2) Exercise releases positive chemicals like endorphins in your brain that help you relax and have a greater sense of well-being.
3) Exercise helps you sleep more deeply and in a way that better restores you, plus many more benefits.
At the Trauma Awareness & Treatment Center we have great respect for survivors of trauma. We also have great respect for the process of healing that you will experience. We have come to recognize that healing is a very personal process, that it isn’t the same for any two people. Because of that, we are open to many different approaches and methods that could work for you. Healing from trauma often seems to involve a miracle in some way, and we appreciate the privilege to be part of your miracle of healing.
Goal for Chapter 7 “When There’s Been Trauma: Regaining Control”
What are some principles you can start using immediately to overcome the effects of your trauma and speed up your healing?